Two years ago for my birthday, my friend Margaret gave me a cookbook called The Splendid Grain
by Rebecca Wood. And, oh, what a splendid gift! I have used it and referred to it many times.
We've all heard about the benefits of adding whole grains to our diet, but I still find most people think of that as brown rice, oatmeal and whole wheat bread. While these are absolutely great, I have developed nothing short of a love affair with quinoa, spelt, buckwheat, millet and many others.
But I'm getting ahead of myself, so first things first: A whole grain is a grain, such as a wheat berry, an oat groat or a kernel of rye, that has not been stripped or processed. For example, brown rice is whole and white rice is processed; un-hulled barley is whole and pearled barley is processed. By choosing whole grains, you are eating the grain just the way nature designs it, and that means you get the benefit of the "whole" food.
Whole grains are super nutritious! They are seeds or kernels of a growing plant. They contain three key parts: The bran which is the tough, fibrous outer skin; the germ which is the embryo or the part that becomes a new plant; and the endosperm which is the starchier part that provides nourishment for the young plant. The bran provides B vitamins, fiber and valuable antioxidants. The germ provides healthy fats, B vitamins and minerals. The endosperm provides mostly starchy carbohydrates with minor amounts of protein and minerals. When a whole grain is processed and refined, the bran and endosperm are removed leaving the starchy "white" part of the grain. Some manufacturers add back missing vitamins. This is called "enriching," but it can never replace the perfection of the grain in its natural, whole state where you find all of the protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, good fats and antioxidants that are naturally present.
Here are a few of my favorite grains that you might not be familiar with:
: This ancient variety of wheat is a little denser than the common wheat we are used to today and I simply love it. I always have whole spelt flour on hand. It makes wonderful breads, baked goods and pie crusts. In fact, I use more whole spelt flour than whole wheat flour because I enjoy it so much. Our stores have crackers, pasta, breads, tortillas, English muffins and many other items made from spelt. Want to try baking with some spelt flour? Here's a delicious recipe for blueberry muffins
: This delightful little grain comes from high in the Andes Mountains where the Inca cultivated it and named it as the "Mother of all Grains." I use it to make quick and easy pilaf dishes, whole grain breakfast cereal (it's good with nuts and raisins!) and in many recipes that call for rice or couscous. Quinoa is particularly nutritious, containing higher amounts of protein than other grains. In fact, it is considered a complete protein, containing all of the essential amino acids. As well, it delivers vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Try this recipe for Quinoa with Chicken, Spring Peas and Asparagus
Steel Cut Oats
: These are whole oat groats that have been cut into only two or three pieces, so they are even closer to the original groat. They are not the regular rolled oats we are used to cooking. Steel cut oats are perfect for the crock-pot overnight. I add water, a cinnamon stick and a pinch of sea salt, and turn it on low. In the morning I have "true" oatmeal - amazing, creamy, nutritious and delicious. I'll add a pat of butter or a bit of chopped walnuts or pecans, perhaps some fresh or dried fruit and a drizzle of raw honey.
: I use this along with spelt for pancakes often. One of my favorite breakfast meals is this: Blend together 2 tablespoons each of buckwheat flour and whole spelt flour. Add 1/8 teaspoon baking soda, a pinch of sea salt, 1 egg, and 2-4 tablespoons of plain or vanilla yogurt. Mix it up adding spices or a drop of vanilla if desired. Cook it on a griddle in a little bit of butter or oil. Delicious with fresh fruit, nuts, more yogurt, cottage cheese and pure maple syrup! For a whole grain apple waffle with buckwheat flour, try this
For a comprehensive list of the many grains we carry along with great ideas for buying, storing, and cooking, check out our Guide to Grains
Some of my favorite ways to use whole grains are:
- Cook up a pot of brown rice, wild rice or quinoa on the weekend and use it for a number of dishes through the week - added to stir fries, soups, stews or heated with a bit of olive oil and parmesan cheese
- Add a handful of raw brown rice or quinoa to a soup and cook until tender
- Heat a bowl of cooked whole grains, add dried or fresh fruit, nuts and milk for breakfast
- Serve a loaf of hearty whole grain bread
- Substitute equal parts whole wheat or whole spelt flour for half or more of the white flour called for in a recipe.
- For breadcrumbs, try whole wheat or rolled oat as a substitute for plain
- Use whole grains to make tabouli and enjoy with fresh vegetables and a dollop of hummus
- Cook up some buckwheat, whole wheat, brown rice or other whole grain pasta and use in place of regular white flour pasta
- Make your favorite pilaf or rice/risotto dish with brown or wild rice, or even half and half for a nutty, delicious treat. Try Brown Rice Spring Vegetable Risotto
What's your favorite way to eat whole grains? Let me know!